4 Reasons Rap And Trump Keep Intersecting
Barack Obama recently had an interview with The Atlantic, detailing his thoughts on politics, the 2020 election, and his upcoming memoir A Promised Land. Most of it is your usual expose chit-chat, but a few key parts stick out, primarily Obama blaming the entirety of hip hop for Trump's rise to prominence in 2016. "I have to remind myself that if you listen to rap music, it's all about the bling, the women, the money. A lot of rap videos are using the same measures of what it means to be successful as Donald Trump is. Everything is gold-plated. That insinuates itself and seeps into the culture."
Outside of being a decrepitly boomer take on hip hop, it's also largely inaccurate, as Trump still ... lost, despite his minimal support from rappers. However, there is a deep and complex history with hip hop's relationship with Donald Trump, one that stretches back over three decades. Much of this nuance is ignored in favor of simplistic views that don't really answer any valuable questions, like ...
Donald Trump References In Rap Are Nothing New
It is no surprise that the music genre people most often associate with consumerism would name-check Donald Trump a few times or so, but what you might not know is just how far back this goes, all the way to the '80s.
The Beastie Boys -- better known as that one time white guys made rap-rock work -- were one of the earliest name droppers on their track "Johnny Ryall," from 1989's Paul's Boutique, with "Donald Trump and Donald Tramp living in the men's shelter." Often, early rappers mostly evoked Trump's name as a vehicle for their own financial aspirations. Black rappers like Ice T, Raekwon, Scarface, E-40, and so on often referenced Trump as a way to build up their own rap personas as being rich and successful.
In fairness, "Donald Trump is wealthier than a homeless alcoholic" is a pretty non-controversial point.
A line like "I need a suite with the flowers complimentary at Trump Towers" from Nas on "Give It Up Fast" was less about upholding Trump as the pinnacle of human success -- a frightening thought to have -- and more about reimagining U.S. wealth as Black, instead of overwhelmingly white. Rappers pictured themselves as Black Trumps to grapple with the crushing reality that Black people, on average, will never escape poverty. Along with that, Trump kind of rhymes with pretty much everything, meaning that even the laziest of rappers could probably get some decent mileage out of his name.
Coming from this angle, you start to see why Trump got so big in rap to begin with, being name-checked in 266 rap songs since 1989. It could have been any soulless rich person that we seemingly don't have a shortage of, but Trump absolutely epitomized the wasteful glamorous life of excess riches and cold exploitation, just like the American way.
Rappers Who Support Him Are Often Obscenely Wealthy, Edgy, Or Both
This might be a bit of a shock to some people, but wealthy people usually like being wealthy and will protect that elite status at all costs. So much so that some of them even end up supporting Trump, despite belonging to a racial group thoroughly demonized by his administration.
The reasons for this are a bit more complicated than just, "I dunno, them rappers love bouncy cars and gold chains," and have more to do with how older, more successful rappers like Kanye or Lil Wayne view their entitlement. For example, 50 Cent, who once had a net worth somewhere shy of $150 million, came out in support for Trump because of Biden's tax plan that would tax everyone making above $400,000 at 62% and said:
That's a lot of anger over wealth redistribution for someone who declared bankruptcy a few years ago.
Lil Wayne and Ice Cube similarly are long-time rap veterans who've collectively stacked more paper than the entire printing industry and came out supporting Trump's platinum plan -- a $500 billion economic program aimed at Black communities that doesn't solve any issues like over-policing or widespread poverty. Rappers like Ice Cube, who built their entire career off telling the police to fuck off, advised Trump on ways to do even more policing, precisely because their own wealthy interests line up with Trump policy.
There's a reason why almost all of the pro-Trump rappers have been multi-millionaires, and that's because of the different experiences between lower and upper-class Black Americans. And it's not always cleanly divided by age either. Younger rappers like 6ix9ine don't have a real affiliation to either party or political belief and vote for Trump purely for their own Joker-esque chaos. So while there are rich rappers who supported Trump, the claim that hip hop is the reason why Trump got elected doesn't hold water because ...
A Good Number Of Rappers Have Been Critical About Him
It might be hard to fit in the idea that socially conscious hip hop artists also exist if your view on politics is as simple and pristine as a Full House episode. In the same way that your average shitlord elite might toss their support at Trump, an even greater number of social activist rappers have denounced him entirely, a tradition that stretches back decades.
Before Boots Riley made Sorry To Bother You, a movie about how much white people suck, he got his start being a rapper with his own rap group called The Coup. In their 1993 album Kill My Landlord, they dissed Trump completely on the track "The Coup," spitting, "Break yourself Trump, it's collection day. ... You stole the shit from my great-granddaddy anyway." And given Trump's impressively consistent track record of being a racist shitfuck, he's ripe material for lyrical murder.
And around the 2016 elections, a host of rappers came out against Trump in outrage over his racial politics. 2016's "FDT" (Fuck Donald Trump) by rapper YG (featuring the late Nipsey Hussle) is three minutes and forty-six seconds of pure fuck you. It's a song so caustically anti-Trump that the LAPD actually shut down the music video shoot, despite there not being any reported violence or anything else that would cause alarm. Further proof that the LAPD has our best interests at heart.
Other rappers like Snoop Dogg, Jay Z, and T.I also have come out very vocally against Donald Trump. Most famously, Eminem made his own "Hit Em Up" style freestyle diss track on Trump in 2017, with the now meme-worthy "awfully hot coffee pot" line going down as one of the more cringe lines in hip hop history.
That's not all though, Ludacris and Jermaine Dupri also put out "Get Out The Vote" ads this year to get Black voters out to vote for Biden. Solely looking at rich rappers who throw a fit when any portion of their wealth is threatened and ignoring the majority of rappers who were vocal against Trump does a great disservice to hip hop, much like Kanye's last album (or every 6ix9ine one).
Hip hop Has Historically Been About Creating Change
However, the biggest point to make here is that hip hop is a vehicle for change and protest and has always served to amplify Black voices since the days of N.W.A. and Public Enemy. Generalizations like "hip hop is about violence and consumption" miss the point and play on incredibly dangerous stereotypes with actual real-life consequences.
It's incredibly easy for someone like Obama to be high and mighty about 'Black support dwindling' without bothering to check the facts, like how Black people had a huge impact on Biden's win. Hip hop is often less about the glorification of violence and Trumpian levels of wealth and more about narrating Black experiences under oppression.
For every rap track about disregarding women and acquiring currency, many others discuss things like ... police brutality and the prison-industrial complex. Y'know, politics and shit. Kendrick Lamar was the first rapper ever to win a Pulitzer Prize for DAMN, an album filled with themes of police brutality and white supremacy, and many more rappers are just like him.
What actually helped Trump secure 2016 was not impoverished Black hip hop fans, but largely the white, wealthy elite. White people screw everything up part infinity. So instead of looking to hip hop as an easy scapegoat for why fascism is on the rise, perhaps the better place to look is the social conditions and institutions that allowed fascists to gain power to begin with. Or just blame hip hop for society's problems because that worked so well before.
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